Generally speaking, a dental assistant provides assistance directly to dentists during routine procedures and may be authorized to take x-rays or perform small procedures under supervision. By contrast, a dental hygienist works directly with patients who perform dental cleanings and oral exams with little or no supervision. The first thing when comparing the work tasks of a dental assistant with those of a dental hygienist is that the assistant works primarily together with the dentist. They will accompany you during filling treatments, root canals, prepare you for a procedure, or act as the dentist's second pair of hands.
While both dental assistants and hygienists address the needs of dental patients, these two careers have distinctive functions, as well as educational and licensing pathways. Each state requires dental hygienists to be licensed, and the requirements for each state are set by each state's board of dental examiners. Dental hygienists advise patients on what types of oral health tools are best for their individual needs and educate them on proper brushing and flossing techniques at home to promote good oral health practices. Dental assistants provide dental and administrative care to patients and assist dental hygienists and dentists with clinical procedures.
Dental assistants must be prepared to provide basic dental care to patients, and sometimes, hygienists may need to process paperwork. Graduates will be prepared to hold dental hygienist positions in places such as dental offices, dental clinics, hospitals, schools, and many of those areas. Learn more about the differences between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist and find out which job is right for you. Graduates will be prepared to take regional and national licensing exams to work as dental hygienists or obtain a degree in dental hygiene.
The biggest differences between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist are the education requirements to become one, what they are allowed to do, and the way they interact with patients. Hygienists rarely return to school to become dentists; it's not that common for assistants to return to become hygienists. While they can be very different, the difference between the responsibilities of the dental assistant and those of the hygienist can be small. Becoming a dental hygienist takes longer, involves deeper clinical education and passing several exams.
To become licensed, dental hygienists must complete the minimum required education at a school approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), present and pass the National Board dental hygiene exam (NBDHE), and pass their state-specific clinical exam. Dental assistants sometimes prepare patients' teeth and hygienists can prepare dental instruments, even if it's not listed in their job descriptions. Many people tend to think that dental assistant and dental hygienist are different titles for the same job. Dental assistants play an important administrative role in dental offices and support hygienists, dentists and patients alike.
Understanding the differences between these two roles is essential for anyone considering a career in dentistry.